The Heart of Thorns expansion brought with it four new open world PvE maps. Each map has a “meta”, a map-wide goal, much like the core Dry Top and Silverwastes. Overall, there is good and bad. I hope that ArenaNet takes the time to smooth out the rougher issues, and I hope they learn from what works.
To just jump in, the overall issue I have is the player knowledge requirement of when a map starts. I have to remember that the Auric Basin boss occurs on the odd hour. I think Verdant Brink resets half an hour earlier with night then occurring an hour and twenty minutes later. No idea about Tangled Depths, which is not fun, and Dragon’s Stand does its own thing.
It was easy enough to learn one map, Dry Top, which reset on the hour, every hour. Silverwastes, like the new Dragon’s Stand, was map dependent; although, the latter is timed. Now there are a bunch of new maps with varied start times, and I feel that there needs to be something in-game, such as the map UI, that tells players the timed status of the map. Then armed with that knowledge, and knowledge of how long I can play, I can make pretty good decisions on what I want to do. Anyway, off to each map…
Verdant Brink Overview
This map is probably the best one of the bunch. It appears to have the most polished meta, and rightly so since all players entering Heart of Thorns will experience it. It has the best jump-in experience, and it has a really good map-wide meta for maps that are looking to get really organized.
On the even half-hour (for me, such as 0830 PST) the map completely resets to day. There are five areas each owing allegiance to an outpost. The goal for the first 1:20 hours is to build up each outpost. I have given a thorough tour of one, and they are all pretty similar in that regards. They each have a story and a conclusion that occurs before nightfall.
As the outpost events are completed the map-wide meta increases. Players are rewarded based on personal participation and the tier of the map meta. This can be seen by hovering the mouse over the minimap. The goal is to complete each outpost, which results in a tier 4 map completion. This is very reasonable for the time allotted.
Once the first 2/3 of the map’s two hours is up, nightfall occurs. For each outpost there is a handful of Pact bonfires available based on how far along the outpost got during the day. If each bonfire is defended through about 3 Mordrem attacks (4 is the best number of players, I’ve heard), the map meta tier goes up.
At the last 20 minutes of night, choppers descend to carry players up to the canopy of the map where 5 boss fights await, respective to each outpost area. The night map tier does not matter, but at least one bonfire for each outpost must have been protected to have a chopper land.
Verdant Brink Review
So why is this a good map? The main reason is because a player can drop in and help at any time and roughly anywhere. During daytime I help build outposts, and during nighttime I help defend. The final rewards, while better for organized maps, are still mostly dependent on my activity and at the boss fights finding a pocket of activity.
If there are only 20 active players at nighttime, we can at least rally around one boss to get it down. If we don’t down all 5 bosses we don’t really lose, we just don’t win the big ticket items.
The other great thing is that the amount of time it takes to complete the outposts roughly fills the first 1:20 hours of daytime. This morning I was on an exceptional map where we finished within the first hour. Yes, there would be 20 minutes of “down time”, which can be filled with adventures and helping players get map completion. However, it appears to be at least considered in the design, whereas Tangled Depths (map 3) usually finishes way, way ahead of time leaving too much time between the outpost buildup and the map meta event.
Finally, this map still benefits from coordination. The daytime map population benefits from splitting in to 5 groups to tackle each outpost. Most of the time I’ve seen the scaling works very well. A single player, for instance, can do all of the Jaka Itzel outpost with the exception of the final wyvern boss. However, at nighttime the best rewards are given to a map that can really split up between the 15-20 bonfires.
ArenaNet in their next land expansion needs more maps like this where a player can jump in anytime or stay for the whole course for the best rewards. They need maps where the map can win small, or win big. Unfortunately, this was the only map where complete failure does not regularly occur.
Auric Basin Overview
My favorite map thematically is Auric Basin. This map is just oozing with lore and history. It feels like we found this lost civilization surrounded by the fauna of the jungle. With all the lore nuggets and brilliant map design, I find it amazing to play there.
For the first majority of the map, Auric Basin works the same as Verdant Brink. There are four outposts, and each outpost has to be unlocked and then improved upon. The further along each outpost is advanced the better chance of beating the meta as each outpost provides a number of giant Exalted armors for players to don in the final fight.
In between the outpost upgrading time and the final fight is a fun contest-phase where players race or play mushroom soccer to win a gold Exalted armor slot. Each outpost gets a set number of Exalted armors regardless of the contest phase, but the winners don the gold ones which have twice the hit points of the usual silver ones. The silver ones respawn if the gold ones die.
The final fight occurs in the middle of the map where the entire population can converge. It is split between four sides, and it only take a minute or so for a player to run to another side through the side passages if another area needs help.
Each side has it’s own mechanic to destroy a shield on the Octovine and then DPS down the Octovine. One side has to glide through poisonous air to bomb the Octovine’s shield while another side has knockback Exalted bombs along the ground to hit the Octovine. It’s not that difficult, but it does require some level of map coordination.
The big part is that once one side of the Octovine is killed the map only has 2 minutes to kill the other 3 sides. It says that the Octovine regenerates if that doesn’t occur. I’m not sure if it goes back to full health or what because every map I have seen has either won or failed on time. 15 minutes is all the map gets for the Octovine fight.
Losing occurs if the Octovine isn’t defeated and an Exalted has to sacrifice itself to protect the city. I’ve been loving when the map yells out “His name was Robert Paulson.”, and the Exalted NPC’s conversations post-death are very well done. There is definitely an atmosphere of sadness in Tarir, the city central to Auric Basin where the Octovine fight occurs.
Win or lose, the Exalted open up their treasure room below the city. However, only a portion is opened upon a loss. A win results in far more treasure chests, bigger treasure chests, and more areas to explore, including a Hero Point that is only accessible upon a Octovine death.
Auric Basin Review
The meta of this map require more coordination than Verdant Brink, but I feel for a map-wide event it is very reasonable. There is plenty of time for heroic players to bolster failing sides. There is time for communication. And, I feel this is going to be put on “farm mode” like Silverwastes, which is perfectly fine. It is still challenging, but it is more challenging to the sum of parts rather than the parts individually.
For example, if the west side is failing it is apparent to all players of the meta that it is happening. There is usually plenty of time for each side to have a quick “need 2 players to head to west” kind of deal. I’ve been part of a map that has killed the Octovine in 8 of the 15 minutes, and I’ve been part of a map where the Octovine was killed in the last 30 seconds. It seems very fair.
The outposts definitely ramp in difficulty compared to Verdant Brink. Most of them have champion bosses sprinkled throughout the outpost progression so a handful of players is going to be required for each outpost. The time to completion still seems fair. Maps that have concerted efforts towards the meta will usually complete each outpost.
The main thing that worries is me is what happens when the next land expansion occurs? I feel it is fair for a few players to bolster the map’s outposts and then ferry in players for the meta. I think that would be a viable thing for the life of the game. However, if the outposts are not scaling down, such as fighting two champion Stoneheads at once, for lower populations. I feel it will, by default, become a wasteland when a new expansion hits.
In all the maps, things will have to downscale more. Right now it might be fine with active populations. However, with raids, possible rebirthing WvW, etc. the active player populations are going to keep spreading. Auric Basin needs to be able to progress if fewer players are active, I feel.
Part 1, Fin
The first two maps of Heart of Thorns both have very good metas, and it is clear because I see groups forming all the time for “org VB” (organized Verdant Brink) and “AB meta” (Auric Basin’s Octovine event). Players that keep coming back can bring helpful experience to the maps, and both maps feel pretty rewarding for open world stuff. It’s not just gold per hour I’m talking about. There is a feeling of accomplishment the further the map meta progresses.
Unfortunately tomorrow I will talk about the other two maps in Heart of Thorns where things take a turn for the worse. I feel things can be fixed though “easily”*. We’ll see where that takes us tomorrow.
*by “easily”, I of course mean conceptually easily and have no realistic basis for ease regarding designer/computer resources.